By Moonyeen King
After the start of the great depression of 1929, unemployment reached an all time high of 25% in 1933, the highest in U.S history. In order to improve labor’s hostile attitude, President Hoover used Mexican immigrants as scapegoats. The Repatriation Effort was born, under the guise that Mexicans were either on relief or public charges, and were taking the few jobs available from ‘real’ Americans. Some Mexicans rounded up were legal and second generation Americans. They were offered money to go back to Mexico or they were forced to go back. According to Balderrama’s account, 500,000 Mexicans were deported. Secretary of Labor William N. Doak’s endeavors to rid the country of Mexicans was unscrupulous.
In 1942, America was heading for war with the fascist powers of Europe. Labor was siphoned from all areas of American industry to support the war effort. That same year America signed the ‘Bracero Treaty,” which re-opened the flood gates for legal immigration from Mexico to the U.S. for laborers. Between 1942 and 1964, millions of Mexicans were imported into the United States as “Braceros,” working on contract to growers and ranchers. “It was the Mexican hand that made America the lush agricultural center of the world.” (Wikipedia).
At the end of World War II, Mexicans were once again ousted from their jobs to accommodate factory workers and servicemen ‘coming home’. By 1960 the overflow of legal immigrants, invention of mechanical cotton pickers, and a high unemployment rate forced the ‘Braceros Program’ to an end.
Illegal immigrants continued to cross the border, however, and produced some quiet heroes. One such hero is Gustavo Gomez. Born in Veracruz 1933, he crossed the border at twelve years of age and worked any job he could find to help the family back home. Living in deplorable places with a dozen others, he managed to survive, until at the age of eighteen, he was caught by immigration and deported.
With the money he had saved, Gustavo bought an old truck and started his own trucking company, delivering beer around his old neighborhood. He married a girl from his home town of Veracruz, Rosa Maria Alvarez, and raised five children. Believing in the education he didn’t have, his children were well schooled, but he also taught them humility and the common bond of man. He practiced what he preached and helped those he could.
Two of his sons walk in his footsteps. Miguel Gomez Alvarez runs the family’s transportation company, Supertrack SA De CV, in Puebla, and Fernando Gomez Alvarez runs the B&B Casa de las Flores in Ajijic. Both men are ‘giving back’. They chose to support the Tepehua Centro Comunitario by donating money for the Education Program, sending the bright stars of Tepehua on to university…creating a new generation of doctors, dentists and teachers. Their contributions are also putting some of the very young into the school system, who could not afford to go before.
Gustavo raised his sons to be quiet heroes too.
Not too many people choose to be illegal immigrants. A desperate situation in their family chooses it for them. They do not want to leave Mexico for the slums of the States and be treated like second class citizens…the needs of their families push them to go.
A large part of the American economy rests on the backs of cheap Mexican labor, labor that Americans do not want to do. Undocumented immigrants work hard to be invisible, therefore they are taken advantage of. Illegal immigrants cannot demand the right to justice or report crimes against them. The same is true for illegals tricked into sweat shops or the sex trade in a modern day form of slavery, especially those who do not speak the language of the host country.
When Mexico has a stronger middle class, that need to search for work over the border, will dissipate, that energy will remain here in Mexico where it belongs. Tepehua Barrio is a pilot program that proves when people of all nations work together against poverty, miracles can happen and do happen. If this barrio, sprawled on an arid mountainside can do it, all barrios can do it. It just takes leaders to step forward and be counted.
Like Fernando and Miguel…led by their father Gustavo—Mexican Heroes.